An unmarked Opelousas police unit was stolen during a narcotics investigation Tuesday and was later involved in a shooting in Port Arthur, Texas.
The unit was taken from the Motel 6 parking lot in the 4100 block of the Interstate 49 Service Road about 10:20 a.m. Tuesday while detectives were investigating narcotics activity at the motel. The unmarked vehicle contained the detective’s body armor and AR-15 patrol rifle, Opelousas Police Department spokesman Major Mark Guidry said.
The vehicle was running at the time of the theft, he said. The officer had hurriedly exited the vehicle and entered the motel to assist in the narcotics investigation. Several arrests were made in that incident; it’s undetermined if the suspect was linked to the narcotics activity or if the theft was a matter of poor circumstances.
“The person may have been close by, saw an opportunity and jumped in the vehicle,” Guidry said.
The vehicle was reported missing to surrounding law enforcement agencies and Louisiana State Police and the unit was spotted on Interstate 10 near Rayne about 20 minutes after the theft was discovered.
Several hours later and roughly 150 miles away, Port Arthur Police Chief Timothy Duriso said the stolen vehicle was involved in two attempted robbery incidents, the second of which ended in the suspect’s fatal shooting. The first incident happened about 6:30 p.m. in the parking lot of Island Grocery on Pleasure Island.
The suspect, identified as Opelousas 25-year-old Leon Jones III, pulled a rifle on a victim sitting in a vehicle and attempted to steal the vehicle, but the driver managed to escape. A witness called police and Jones fled the scene, Duriso said.
About three or four miles down Highway 82 in Port Arthur, Jones stopped a Beaumont couple who were crabbing in the area and attempted to rob them. The husband retrieved a firearm from their vehicle and the two exchanged gunfire; Jones was fatally struck, the chief said.
The husband was uninjured while his wife sustained minor cuts and injuries, possibly when a window in their vehicle was shattered during the shooting. She was treated at the scene by EMS and released, Duriso said.
The chief said it’s unclear why Jones was in the area or if he has any ties locally.
“We can’t find any foot pattern. It’s puzzling to us how he ended up in Port Arthur, Texas, over two hours away. We haven’t found any (personal ties to the area) at this time,” Duriso said.
The Opelousas police unit and the officer’s rifle were recovered and have been logged as evidence. The Port Arthur Police Department is coordinating with the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office to determine when the items can be released pending conclusion of the final investigation, he said.
Opelousas police officers traveled to Port Arthur on Wednesday to confer with local authorities, Guidry said.
Officers believe Jones is the same individual who originally stole the unmarked unit but that is still being confirmed, he said. Surveillance footage of the suspect was captured at the Motel 6, but officers are determining if the footage quality is sufficient for an identification.
Duriso said officials suspect Jones was also involved in a theft incident near the Louisiana-Texas border in Calcasieu Parish, but more details are needed to make a confirmation.